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Several in community react to report

Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind Williams praised the Working Group on Dangerous Drinking while Burton-Conner Housemaster Halston Taylor took issue with several of its recommendations. Elsewhere on campus, however, reaction to the Working Group's report was generally muted, perhaps because final exams and Commencement commanded the attention of the MIT community.

Noting that no simple solutions exist to the problems considered by the Working Group, Dean Williams praised its members for displaying a "really deep understanding" of social behavior and social change. "Every time I read the report, I appreciate it more," she said.

But Associate Professor Taylor criticized the Working Group for not conferring with the Alcohol Policy Committee, housemasters, graduate resident tutors or the Resident Systems Integration Team (RSIT) before issuing its report.

While acknowledging that several housemasters and many students favor "immunity" from sanctions for students who call for medical help in an alcohol-related health emergency, Professor Taylor feels such a policy cannot work.

"I can imagine our bright students manipulating that policy if they think there is a possibility they might find themselves in such a situation," he said. "I know if I had an intent to party with little regard for my level of sobriety, I would certainly tell someone to call in my behalf since it would mean no sanctions.

"What student wouldn't try to complain about a system with sanctions and look for a way out? Of course they will say they fear sanctions and thus will not call the police. I think they will call the police (as much as they ever would have) if we do our job of educating them properly why that is the safest and fastest means of getting help."

Professor Taylor also disagreed with a suggestion that all living groups have at least one resident who has received MedLINKs training. "Let the residence teams decide how they wish to approach the situation in each residence hall," he said. "This entire alcohol education program will not work until the students take some ownership. That is why the fraternities are so far ahead in their unity. Why do we not put part of the problem in the students' hands?"

He believes a recommendation that links Rush and dangerous drinking is shortsighted ("while this does happen, it also happens all during the year -- it is inappropriate to relate the two in such a way") and misconstrues the roles played by graduate and faculty residents in relation to the Nightwatch program.

Professor Taylor said he was also concerned that the Working Group's statement that requiring freshmen to live on campus would reduce the potential for dangerous drinking has been interpreted as a recommendation of this policy. "If indeed all that is meant is that MIT should continue to offer all freshmen on-campus housing, then it should say just that," he said. "The current wording is catching the attention of too many people."

Other recommendations in the report are good, he said, particularly the appointment of a high-level coordinator to deal with alcohol-related issues. The Health Education Service also applauded this recommendation. "We look forward to working closely with the individual coordinating the alcohol education efforts on campus," said Tracy Desovich, health educator for students.

Undergraduate Association President Paul Oppold endorsed the recommendation that social options on campus be expanded, noting that the UA and other student organizations were already discussing ways to achieve this goal with officials at the Campus Activities Complex.

"With the departure of several stores this summer, we hope to create an area for social meetings and games," said Mr. Oppold, a member of Delta Tau Delta and a junior in mechanical engineering. "We need a student center and not just businesses within the Stratton building. The social life will definitely change the social norm of dangerous drinking as we strive to create more alcohol alternative events such as Spring Weekend, Amherst Alley Rally and Lobdell dances."

Brian Jacobson, an MIT graduate who is married to East Campus graduate resident tutor Jennifer Carlson, believes that scheduled activities on campus will fill a void. "It's obvious that the social life around here has taken a big hit from the new alcohol policy and that students have been much more stressed this year," he said.

Both Mr. Oppold and Mr. Jacobson were both pleased to see the report recognize the problem students have with Campus Police being responsible for responding to medical calls.

"By reducing the perceived barriers of being arrested when calling the CPs, students who need help are much more likely to receive it," said Mr. Oppold.

"Despite all the rules and regulations, a certain amount of drinking is going to happen 'underground.' With the policy as it is, students are not inclined to get people who need help to the right place from fear of sanctions against them and the person who needs help. This makes for a very dangerous situation," said Mr. Jacobson.

He also noted that dormitory residents are protective of their community and would look askance upon a requirement that freshmen live on campus. "Many dorms feel much more like family here than at any other school I've seen," he said. "When a student on the floor is in trouble, many members of the floor go way above and beyond to help that person out.

"I believe that the less time a student lives in a particular place, the less that person feels they need to invest into making it a good place to live," Mr Jacobson said. "Eliminating freshman rush will cause floors to be full of people who don't want to be there��������������������������� This will do a great deal to destroy dorm culture."

Campus Police Chief Anne Glavin welcomed the creation of an administrative structure and programs to strengthen education about dangerous drinking. "I think this is probably the most important part of the report," she said. "Additionally, the focus on education and enhancing student's social life as an alternative to drinking are key points. I am hopeful that these recommendations will come to life in the near future."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 20, 1998.

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